Conceptual Indecisiveness

Last week, Security Council secretary Igor Ivanov presented a paper titled "A Strategy for Russia's National Security" at a nongovernmental think tank. The presentation suggested that work on a new official national security concept is continuing in the Kremlin, but that a new and meaningful strategy is far from being formulated.

To Our Readers

Has something you've read here startled you? Are you angry, excited, puzzled or pleased? Do you have ideas to improve our coverage?
Then please write to us.
All we ask is that you include your full name, the name of the city from which you are writing and a contact telephone number in case we need to get in touch.
We look forward to hearing from you.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

The Council on Foreign and Defense Policy that Ivanov addressed is a well-established independent body, with members from virtually the entire Moscow political spectrum. In recent years, the council has often criticized official actions without having much true sway in actual decision-making.

Some of the council members I spoke with were not impressed by Ivanov's paper. It touched on more or less the same themes as most of the recent Russian military documents and policies that have been adopted since 1991, such as the need to sustain Russia's nuclear forces as a foundation of global security and the need to remake the military into a "compact modern force" while arming it with new conventional weapons.

Ivanov's paper specified that by 2015 some 50 percent of the military's weapons should be brand new and that the defense industry must be able to provide them, but he did not specify any concrete ways and means to achieve this goal.

In today's Russian bureaucratic lingo, the deadline "by 2015" is as fantastic as "long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away." Ivanov's paper clearly did not have much to do with genuine defense or security planning. So why was it presented to the public?

In October 2002, after the Dubrovka terrorist attack in Moscow that left 130 hostages dead, Putin publicly called for a new national security concept to be adopted -- and fast. But former Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo, who was the Security Council secretary at the time, did not have the qualifications or the competent staff to coordinate the drafting of such a complex document. Therefore, the Defense and Foreign ministries were named joint coordinators of the drafting of the new policy.

This peculiar dual coordinating exercise by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Igor Ivanov, who was then foreign minister, did not work out well. Frictions between the two ministries and within the military ended in total indecision. Government officials, including Defense Minister Ivanov, told reporters that work on the new policy was proceeding. But soon progress reports stopped, and the issue faded into the background until the Beslan attack in September 2004.

In the spring of 2004, Rushailo was replaced as Security Council secretary by Igor Ivanov, who after personnel shifts in the fall of 2004 publicly took on the task of rewriting the policy -- a duty he had failed to accomplish as foreign minister together with the other Ivanov.

Igor Ivanov then announced that to develop the new policy, public discussions and round tables with political analysts and academics would be organized. Last week's discussion seemed to indicate that the round tables are continuing. It was announced that last week's paper was only a preliminary draft. In volume and nature, it did not even approach the status of a national security concept and was humbly titled "A Strategy for Russia's National Security."

Legally, no official documents go by this name. There are, however, official military documents called "military doctrines" and "national security concepts." These kinds of documents were drafted in the days before President Vladimir Putin came to power. But in the more than five years of bureaucratic work since, officials have not produced anything of substance.

The absence of definitive official security, defense and foreign policy doctrines in Putin's Russia is not a coincidence or exclusively the result of incompetence. Putin's rhetoric for foreign consumption portrays Russia as a Western ally in the war against terrorism. Yet Kremlin rhetoric addressed at the domestic military and security community is in essence anti-Western, depicting, as Putin did publicly immediately after Beslan in September 2004, the West as an endorser of the terrorists who "want to destroy Russia."

The Kremlin, in other words, is trying to have it both ways. It keeps sending conflicting signals to the military, diplomatic and security bureaucracy. This incoherence thwarts any attempt to formulate a comprehensive Russian national defense and security policy. Even writing an interdepartmentally acceptable, coherent official document seems to present insurmountable obstacles for the authorities.

Pavel Felgenhauer is an independent defense analyst based in Moscow.